Websites Match Volunteers With a Cause

Websites match idealists with nonprofits in need.

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A study by the Corporation for National and Community Service and the National Conference on Citizenship found that an astonishing one quarter of all Americans volunteered in 2009. The Internet is playing a major role in matching up potential volunteers with the organizations that most need help. One of the largest sites, idealist.org, boasts a half million members who support some 84,000 nonprofits in more than 180 countries, from a group in Houston seeking a teacher of English as a second language to an outfit in Turkey looking for a programmer to help build its website.

Another huge site, VolunteerMatch.org, similarly serves tens of thousands of nonprofits, but particularly targets a younger demographic: Half of its first-time volunteers are under 30. A third site, DoSomething.org, also seeks to inspire young people with the spirit of volunteerism. The group hopes to "activate" 2 million volunteers by 2011 to fill roles that don't require money, cars, or adults.

If you're a bit more adventurous, you might want to check out the website for Habitat for Humanity's Global Village program (www.habitat.org/gv). There you can search among hundreds of projects around the world, from home construction to disaster relief, that need volunteers. Last year, for instance, 16 volunteers built 19 houses in Mozambique in just seven days. No experience is necessary, but volunteers pay their travel costs and about $100 a day in expenses. David Minich, director of the Global Village program, says, "The typical tourist who goes to Cancun interacts with the wait staff, whereas our volunteers are seeing how people actually live and being of assistance to those with great need."

AARP, the older-Americans group, has also long supported volunteerism. Its website Create the Good (www.createthegood.org) lists thousands of opportunities for all ages and abilities, from volunteering at an animal shelter to coaching a sports team. AARP spokeswoman Elly Spinweber says baby boomers often prefer "self-directed opportunities" that fit their lifestyles and "give them a sense of accomplishment." AARP offers these self-starters a host of do-it-yourself ideas, from setting up a used book sale to donating frequent flyer miles. The group also provides downloadable resources, including leaflets and sample registration forms, to help these civic organizers enlist others.